As surfers, we are keenly in tune with nature. Spending countless hours in her oceans harnessing her energy in the purest sense. We are the veritable disciples of Gaia. Or not.
Let’s break it down. We drive further than most to get to beaches others wouldn’t even bother to consider. We don clothing made out of petroleum with a shelf life that’s outlived only by Spam. Perhaps worst of all, we are resistant to technological developments and insist on the same petroleum based polyurethane (PU) surfboards with a production process involving inordinate amounts of toxic chemicals, carbon dioxide (CO2) refuse, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Put another way, Clark Foam didn’t have the wrath of every environmental agency come down on it’s head because of a roach in its cafeteria. It doesn’t take an Al Gore to realize that we, self-styled eco warriors that we are, do in fact leave a carbon footprint that would make China’s deputy minister of environmental protection snicker. And, no, that Surfrider decal on your Prius bumper just isn’t going to cut it.
Some obligatory statistics, shall we? Approximately 750,000 surfboards are produced annually, and the majority are made of PU. Between Los Angeles and the border of Mexico alone, 1,000 surfboards are produced every day. Yes, “There goes the lineup!” was my initial reaction as well. But give some thought for a moment to the amount of toxic crap all this production is spewing forth into the atmosphere and sitting dormant in the landfills.
In his “Surfboard Cradle-to-Grave” project, Tobias Schultz, studying Sustainable Engineering at U.C. Berkeley, gathered very interesting data points on the carbon footprint left by surfers. He determined that over its lifetime, surfboards contribute between 380 to 545 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere for PU and epoxy, respectively. What’s that mean? Over the lifetime of a single PU board (the majority of boards made), the carbon footprint is equivalent to that of driving 20 miles, taking a bus for 1,200 miles, using a computer for 230 days, manufacturing 861 plastic bags or 345 plastic bottles. That is for a single surfboard – not including the carbon emitted from driving to the beach nor that from the manufacture and ultimate disposal of your wetsuit. No, we are not quite the green angels we might think we are. Far from it.
However, there is hope.
And that hope was caught rummaging through the dumpsters of … Lost surfboards in 2006. The dumpster diver turned out to be Joey Santley, a longtime acquaintance and childhood friend of … Lost shaper Matt “Mayhem” Biolos. Joey was looking for foam dust and other surfboard scraps hell bent on disproving a 50-year notion in the industry that such material could not be recycled. His father having been in the foam blowing business, Joey grew up to learn the process intimately and was convinced recycling surfboard scraps was not an impossibility. By late 2007, Joey along with Steve Cox co-founded ReSurf Recycling to do just that. Santley and Cox would forge ahead to establish a patent pending process to create blanks from recycled materials that are identical to virgin blanks in terms of cost, ease of shaping, and durability under the brand Green Foam Blanks.
The first surfboard made of a Green Foam blank came out of the mold on November 11, 2008. Biolos was bestowed the honor of shaping the first board now an exhibit at the Surfing Heritage Museum in San Clemente. A few months later in January 2009, Green Foam made its debut appearance at the Action Sports Retailer (ASR) trade show in San Diego where seven recycled boards were presented from renowned shapers including … Lost, Rusty, Al Merrick, T. Patterson, Surf Prescriptions, Wellen, and Rawson. The industry received Green Foam with open arms resulting in numerous retailer commitments and inquiries from shapers.
Is having a pure white board more important than the ocean that you surf in? Didn’t think so! Get over it!
Today, Green Foam blanks are available to any shaper. … Lost surfboards has been producing Green Foam boards for retail sale. For publicity, 500 boards were made for professional surfers such as Cory Lopez, Dustin Barka, and Christian Fletcher and celebrities including Cameron Diaz, Matthew McConaughey, Jason Mraz, and Perry Ferrell. Boards that still have a bit of life in them are refurbished and given to Surfers for Healing which introduces surfing to kids with autism.
Ulupono Surf had the pleasure to get to know San Clemente local Joey Santley and catch up on what he and his band of true eco warriors have been up to.
Ulupono Surf (US): I’ve heard of dumpster diving for food … but for foam powder??
Joey Santley (JS): Yeah- well Steve and I were very Hungry! Well, let’s say eager – to get the industry to at least take notice of the amount of waste we surfers are creating and to start to make an effort to right things.
US: I think that waste was brought front and center with the closure of Clark Foam. Can you tell us about how you’ve seen the landscape change since that infamous “Black Monday”?
JS: The Clarke Foam closure was a wakeup call. Steve and I listened and sat on the sidelines as several foam blowers sprang up to fill the void. We figured that if the [Environmental Protection Agency] was going after Clark then it would only be a matter of time before they go after the rest of the crew.
This is when we started talking about the possibility of recycling the waste. Steve being an inventor and myself having a history growing up in a surfboard and foam blowing factory as a kid gave us the confidence that we needed to prove concept. We figured that we needed to jump ahead of the curve – a real slow one in the surf industry – as there was not much progression in surfboard manufacturing for decades.
We saw a vision of surfboards being recycled into new ones over and over again – reducing the amount of raw materials required to supply our industry. We also saw a vision of the factories working together to come up with new methodologies that would lessen the impact that we collectively have on the environment.
US: That’s quite a vision which I’d imagine requires quite a team to pull off. Can you tell us a little bit about how all of the guys involved with ReSurf managed to find each other? Did you already know each other?
JS: Well Steve and I met through our mutual friend Ron Pringle. I have known Matt Biolos for over 20 years – so it was really easy to get together to discuss the vision. The four of us set out to make an example – this starting ReSurf Recycling – more as a platform from which we could present our findings and urge the industry leaders to take notice.
US: The good thing is these days, more and more people, consumers and industry leaders alike seem to be taking notice. The bad thing is a lot of “eco” initiatives out there are not as eco as they make themselves out to be. For instance, some argue that the carbon footprint from making ethanol from corn defeats the environmental purpose of the alternative energy source. How is the production process of Green Foam blanks in terms of its carbon footprint?
JS: This is where things get exciting. Green Foam is a “Cradle-to-Cardle” process – meaning that we can continually recycle the waste over and over again. Our process requires almost no extra energy or VOCs causing process to recycle the foam.
We are doing three things with our blanks. 1) We are keeping waste that is headed for the landfill out of the landfills. 2) We are reducing the amount of raw chemicals needed to produce the same amount of blanks reducing the VOCs created in blowing the foam. 3) We are using our blanks to educate the rest of the surfing community that anything can be done that we put our minds to.
sustinable-stoke-5The fact is, after 50 years of this myth that PU foam cannot be recycled, we proved everyone wrong in 1 HOUR!!! Imagine if someone had spent the time to figure this out years ago – how much waste we surfers could have prevented from going into landfills …
US: No doubt, a lot of waste could have been prevented even if only partially recycled. In fact, your first board was 65% recycled. Understanding that a board needs some virgin foam in there so the stuff sticks together, you were aiming to get to a 70% to 80% recycled blank.
JS: Since we blew the first blank (still can’t get the residue off my chin LOL), we have refined our process and are looking at increasing the amount of recycled material that goes into each blank. This is a continual effort that will go on until other, better methodologies are figured out.
US: One issue you were running into was the retro recycled grainy look of your blanks. Are you finding that to be less of an issue? If so, is that because you’ve been able to improve on the look or is it because surfers are becoming more open minded?
JS: Well That is funny – I have a question for all of you – “IS HAVING A PURE WHITE BOARD MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE OCEAN THAT YOU SURF IN?” Didn’t think so! Get over it! Wake up and smell the offshores people – our environment is more important than any of our desires or egos.
We are so happy that people like Donavon Frankenreiter, Wardo, Kolohe Andino, Cory Lopez, Pat O’Connel, and so many others get it! The foam works great – and these guys actually like the specs because it gives them a tangible badge of honor that shows they care. Donavon actually asks to have more specs and a tint of green in his blanks to make sure that people see that they are recycled. This is just the beginning. I look forward to seeing a WCT event won on a recycled blank!
US: Ok, so let me get this straight … the pros dig the Green Foam, these blanks cost as much as regular ones, shape no differently from regular blanks, and ride and are as durable as regular blanks. Am I missing something here? Does it cause nausea, constipation, or erections lasting more than four hours?
JS: We do not want to penalize people for making the right choice- so we have priced our blanks competitively with other manufacturers – giving surfers another reason to do the right thing.
Warning: Our boards do cause random acts of love from people that see them for the first time and understand what they represent. Random people may come up to you and just tell you that they love you. It’s kinda cool. We are scared to tint one blue – may cause stiff legged head dips that make you look like a kook so we keep them green instead.
US: For sure, definitely keep them green! In all seriousness, not all of the recycled materials are resurrected as surfboards. Some have been used as additives to concrete and cement?
JS: Correct – there is way too much waste created in surfboard factories than we can recycle into new boards. The majority of waste is still going into landfills. IF we have our way, this will not be the case for long. We are working on setting up a pilot program to recycle all waste from our factories into roads and other public works projects. Time will tell.
US: You guys also have your sights set on wetsuits. Last I’ve heard, you had a pilot program with Quiksilver and O’Neill to recycle scraps and discarded wetsuits into things such as yoga mats and backpack inserts.
JS: Yes – we have been taking waste from most of the manufacturers here in the U.S. and doing R& D testing to make new products out of the neoprene scraps. We are working on several initiatives – where we will be cross marketing and branding new products out of waste materials with existing brands in the industry.
We have samples of yoga mats, shoe insoles, backpack inserts, sandals, and many other items. We have also introduced some of the wetsuit manufacturers to an organic rubber made from a sustainable crop. We are confident that in the next couple of years, you will see wetsuits that are completely organic, hypoallergenic, and free of any petroleum products.
US: You’re looking to expand first into Hawaii and then into South Africa, Australia, and Japan. Is this purely a logistical rationale (blanks are expensive to ship!) or are there cultural elements at work here?
JS: We are getting requests for our blanks from all around the world. We are in talks with many of the world’s foam blowers to get them started producing Green Foam under license agreements. Our vision is to recycle and re-manufacture blanks on a local level – continent by continent to avoid shipping blanks so far.
US: In all honesty, personally, I’m probably as far from an environmentalist or activist as you can probably get. But what you guys are pulling off here is nothing short of impressive from an environmental and business standpoint. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us and for what you do.
JS: Making these efforts is the least we can do. Steve, Matt, Ron, and I all share the same love for the ocean, we have children that we love and care for and we want them and their children to be able to enjoy our oceans as we have been for our lives. We feel it is our responsibility to do what we can to make life better for everyone. We look forward to the industry as a whole stepping up to the challenges we face – together – to effect a positive change in the way we live.